NFL Preview - Buffalo (4-3) at N.Y. Jets (1-6)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - When your best 60-minute effort of the season results in a two-point gut kick of a loss to your most heated rival in a primetime TV game, it's hard to re-scale the emotional wall.
And when that loss drops you to 1-6 and probably spells the end for both your playoff chances and your coach, it gets even more difficult.
Welcome to the New York Jets in Week 8, as they prepare for a Sunday home date with Buffalo.
Rex Ryan and Co. nearly pulled off an unlikely bounce-back in Week 7 at New England, taking a New York team that had been held to 151 yards in a 31-0 loss at San Diego and humbled by Peyton Manning in a 14-point home defeat to Denver, and transforming it into a wrecking machine that battered the Patriots for 218 rushing yards and 423 yards of total offense.
Still, when Nick Folk's game-winning field goal try was blocked in the final seconds, it wasn't enough, which left the increasingly hot-seated Ryan to reflect on reality.
"We can't deny where we are at, we're 1-6," Ryan said. "The job is every day to get better and I believe our football team is getting better, it just hasn't been good enough to win yet."
Chris Ivory contributed 107 of the 218 ground yards against the Patriots, adding a TD on his 21 carries, and he'll try to better the intermittent success he had while churning out 98 yards against the Bills when the teams most recently met last November in Buffalo - a game the Bills won, 37-14.
Quarterback Geno Smith completed eight of 23 passes in that Week 11 loss, but played perhaps his best game of the season last week at Foxborough, where he connected on 20-of-34 throws for 226 yards, had a touchdown pass and was not picked off for the first time this season.
He also averaged better than 5.2 yards on seven rushing attempts.
His challenge this week comes from an aggressive Buffalo defense that's fourth in the league against the run - allowing 80.4 yards per game - has 19 sacks in seven games and has created 12 turnovers, good for fifth in the NFL.
Smith does get a new toy to play with in the form of former first-round pick Percy Harvin, who was acquired from Seattle in a sudden trade for a conditional draft pick. Harvin scored a touchdown on a kickoff return in the Seahawks' Super Bowl win over the Broncos in February, but fell out of favor after catching 22 passes and rushing for 92 yards in five games this season.
Several stories this week have heralded disputes with teammates and other off- field issues that may have prompted Seattle to give up on him after it had acquired him from Minnesota for first-, third- and seventh-round draft picks prior to the 2013 season.
"I'm learning from those lessons," Harvin said. "I'm happy to be here right now and looking to make the most out of it."
As for the Bills, they're a surprising 4-3 through seven games after winning just six times in 16 tries last year, but the powerful tandem responsible for their lofty status among ground-gaining teams in 2013 - Buffalo was second in the league with 144.2 yards per game - is out of commission this week.
Starters C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson were lost in the first half of a one- point home win over Minnesota last week. Spiller is on injured reserve, but could return later in the season, with a collarbone injury; while Jackson is probably gone for at least four weeks with a groin problem.
Thus, backups Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon step into the spotlight against the Jets, and the Bills signed Phillip Tanner this week to add some backfield depth.
Brown hasn't appeared in a game this season, while Dixon has gotten 27 carries for 137 yards and caught three balls for 15 yards. Tanner played in all 16 games for Dallas last season, but carried only nine times for 12 yards and caught four passes for 33.
"I'm going to go out there and play for them," Brown said. "I'll do my very best. I don't want to let those guys down."
The Bills are above .500 after seven games for the first time in three years, but they haven't finished above break-even since going 9-7 in 2004. The run game has averaged 103.4 yards per week in 2014, a 40-plus yard dip from last season thanks in part to the arrival of two rookies on the offensive line.
The Jets are eighth in the league at stopping the run - allowing 88 yards per game - but they were gashed for 300 against San Diego and Denver before holding the Patriots to 63 in the Week 7 loss.
Buffalo quarterback Kyle Orton drove the team 80 yards in 15 plays and hit rookie Sammy Watkins with a scoring pass with one second left to defeat the Vikings, and he faces a New York secondary this week that's been riddled by injury and ineffectiveness and allowed two TD passes to Tom Brady last week.
Watkins was the fourth overall pick in April's draft and has panned out with 35 catches for 433 yards and four touchdowns. The win against Minnesota was his best game of the season with nine catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
"We just have to get better," Orton said. "Everybody did a better job this week of getting right to work, being focused, being ready to go on Wednesday. Any time you have a young team and a young offense, you're going to have some growing pains, and we're going to continue to get better and continue to win games."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Welcome to the Big Apple
Normally, the acquisition of a proven NFL player like Harvin would create ripples of optimism, but it's hard for a team to reach that level when it's already 1-6, and the arriving player comes with baggage.
Still, regardless of how limited his knowledge of the playbook might be, Harvin will provide a downfield threat and could find himself on the receiving end of a play-action pass or two in his debut.
Sling it to Sammy
As mentioned earlier, the Jets are no longer the secondary they were in the days of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Their first-round selection of Dee Milliner in 2013 has been mildly impactful at best, and a handful of other players are being shuffled through various roles. That doesn't bode well in a meeting with a high-octane rookie like Watkins, who's already shown an ability to carry his team.
There are a lot of reasons to like the Jets. They're home. They're coming off their best performance. And they're playing a team that's a mild surprise thus far, but not exactly on the level of the last three foes.
Still, the main question revolves around just how much the loss at New England, with its consequences, will mean in the follow-up. It could be a New York rout, but it's more likely an aggravating, close loss.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bills 21, Jets 20
10/26 07:11:06 ET
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